Across much of Europe and North America it is commonplace for drivers to keep two sets of tyres; one for the summer months and one for the winter. As the names suggest, each are designed for driving in different conditions; winter tyres are more suited to colder temperatures and wet or icy conditions whilst summer tyres perform best in dry, warmer weather.
Whilst in many countries on the continent drivers are legally obliged to fit winter tyres during the winter months, it is not the case in the UK although some drivers do still opt to use them. With our moderate climate and meagre snow fall however, many drivers ask ‘what’s the point?’ Is it really cost effective and worthwhile to keep two sets of tyres?
Whilst it may not snow particularly heavily very often in the UK, having a set of winter tyres in the garage can be seen as somewhat of a hedge against the bad weather. The weather on our beloved island is whacky enough to see you November through February without even a sprinkling of the white stuff, only for March to bring enough to close schools and block roads (albeit here in the UK that doesn’t take very much!). Should that snowfall come, be it at Christmas or half way to summer, having a set of winter tyres at the ready means you can quickly adjust the performance of your car to suit the conditions. There will be no wheel-sliding as you attempt to set off on a morning, and no slip of the tyres when attempting to stop on an icy road.
Another argument in favour of fitting winter tyres is that they are not designed solely for use in the snow. They use a tread rubber compound with a high silica content and are manufactured with a special tread pattern that mean they are able to maintain the flexibility required for good breaking and traction in colder conditions. Even if there is no snow on the road, winter tyres will boost performance and reduce stopping distances in temperatures below 7°C.
It is also true that investing in winter tyres will prolong the life of your summer ones. Whilst you will naturally have to fork out more initially to pay for two sets of tyres, as your tyres will be more suited to the conditions they are being driven in they will last longer than if they were driven all year round.
If you store your own tyres, having them fitted every six months is relatively inexpensive too. Using a mobile tyre fitters (a search for ‘mobile tyre fitting Oxfordshire’ should return some results nearby) will cost you under a hundred pounds.
On the other hand of course, there is the fact that you do have to take the hit on two sets of tyres. This might be rather a lot for a driver in a country that experiences at most a week of snow fall every year. Many drivers are therefore happy to make do with their summer tyres all year around. Shopping around will bring the price down somewhat, although there is no getting away from the fact that you have to buy two sets of tyres.
One other argument against is that driving with winter tyres in weather that does not require them can actually be detrimental to your car’s performance and handling. The extra tread and high silica rubber compound can lead to slippy handling and woolly steering if the tyres are used in mild conditions.
At the end of the day, it comes down to a driver’s judgement call. If our seasons were more distinctive the choice would be clear. All weather tyres provide far superior handling and performance in the snow, cold and wet and do wonders for our safety, handling and economy. Each side of the debate is essentially a gamble – ask yourself, are you prepared to pay a bit extra to ensure your car is safe in the winter? And what if this winter really is the coldest on record? Or will you make do and drive with the summer tyres all year around – carefully slipping and sliding down the road the next time it snows? It’s a tough decision – the choice is yours.